Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan; and Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, urging them to use their “good offices and leadership positions to urgently publish all reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly since the return of democracy in 1999.”
The organization also urged them to “disclose the number and details of public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly that have resulted in any indictment of suspects, and to name such suspects. The reports should be sent to appropriate anti-corruption agencies to consider if there is sufficient admissible evidence to pursue prosecution.”
In the FoI requests dated 25 July, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Publishing the reports of hearings and probes would bolster public trust and confidence in the oversight functions, and dispel the perception that many of these hearings and probes are politically motivated and serve personal interest, rather than the general public interests.”
SERAP said: “The most effective way to deter corruption is to make the cost of engaging in these types of acts higher than the rewards. This end can only be accomplished by making public the reports and pursuing public accountability for corrupt acts. Doing so would also give Nigerians greater confidence that their lawmakers can use their constitutional oversight functions to address corruption in Nigeria.”
The FoI requests, read in part: “We urge you to sponsor a resolution to stop lawmakers from directly getting involved in the execution of projects by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to ensure the proper and effective exercise of oversight functions, including investigations of corruption allegations, such as those involving the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).”
“We also urge you to urgently use the opportunity of the ongoing public hearings and corruption probes to influence Nigeria’s anti-corruption agenda, including by immediately amending section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act on independent counsel for corruption.
“Section 52 requires the Chief Justice of Nigeria to authorise an independent counsel to investigate any allegation of corruption against high level public officials, and to report his/her findings to the National Assembly or appropriate house of assembly.
“The proposed amendment should include additional requirements beyond merely reporting to lawmakers, that would allow the independent counsel to use the findings of any investigation as a basis to pursue effective prosecution of corruption cases without any authorisation by the executive or the National Assembly.
“SERAP notes that both the Senate and House of Representatives have over the years conducted several public hearings and corruption probes to expose pervasive problem of corruption in MDAs.
“SERAP is concerned about the systemic and widespread corruption allegations in MDAs and among high-ranking public officials, and the negative impacts on socio-economic development, as well as access of Nigerians to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water and regular electricity supply.
“We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of the FoI requests. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to compel you to comply with our requests.
“The exercise of oversight functions and powers by the National Assembly to conduct public hearings and corruption probes in MDAs should be regarded as a public trust.
“The National Assembly has a unique opportunity to enhance transparency and accountability, as well as the integrity of its oversight functions on corruption matters in particular, and other constitutional roles, in general, including by publishing widely the reports of all corruption-related public hearings since 1999.
“There is legitimate public interest in the publication of the reports of these public hearings and probes. The public hearings and probes can only serve as effective mechanisms to prevent and combat corruption if their reports are widely published.
“By Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on reports of all public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly since 1999.
“By Section 4 (a) of the FoI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”